Sunday, February 24, 2019

Review: Finding Dorothy

I've always been fairly upfront about my dislike for the fantasy genre.  Nothing against the genre as a whole, it's just really not my thing. At all. Honestly, it's fairly shocking I enjoyed the Harry Potter series as much as I did - although it should be noted I haven't gone back to revisit it with the same regularly as I would say, oh favorite mystery series.  Still, it's kind of shameful to admit that I never have read, nor have the desire to, the Oz books by L.Frank Baum. Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts would therefore be a book that I, normally, would not pick up on my own.  However, Wendy Can't Seem To Say No. I'm helping out a former employer with an author event soon and this would be "homework reading."  It's an excellent example of being forced into reading something that turned out to be pretty great.

L. Frank Baum has been gone for 20 years by 1938 when his widow, Maud Baum (now 77 years old) shows up on the MGM studio lot to ensure Hollywood doesn't completely trample over her husband's legacy.  She essentially needs to strong arm her way through the gates and into the offices of Louis B. Mayer - but is indulged long enough to be invited back to witness some of the filming...even if she's been unable to get her hands on a final script that seems to change on daily basis.

This is a time slip novel, alternating between the filming of the movie and Maud's past.  In 1938/1939, she's meeting Judy Garland, concerned for the girl being squeezed into submission by a domineering mother and a studio system looking to grind her to dust to make a buck.  The Maud's "past" portion of the story covers her childhood, raised by famous suffragist, Matilda Joslyn Gage, her acceptance into Cornell University, meeting and falling in love with theater actor, L. Frank Baum, and their life together prior to him writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  It's the past portions of the story I enjoyed the most, almost as if Maud was the wizard behind the curtain all along.  Frank was the dreamer, Maud was the glue that kept the whole thing together.

While the Frank and Maud courtship and marriage would definitely be the stuff of a romance novel, readers of this blog (who are predominantly romance readers), should be aware it's not all sunshine and roses.  There are hardships, and events, that are difficult to read about.  Maud nearly dying after the birth of her second child, her sister Julia's weak constitution and disastrous marriage, the beginnings of Judy Garland's descent into drug addiction and the slime orbiting her as a child actor in the studio system.

What I enjoyed so much about this book is that it took completely unknown to me history and made it come alive - which, frankly, is what all good historical fiction should do.  It did get a little tell-y in parts, but I was so engrossed by Maud's life, her marriage, her struggles, juxtaposed with the making of one of the most famous movies of all time, I was sucked up by the magic of the all - even though we all know the magic to be an illusion often hiding ugly realities.

I'm still unlikely to ever read the Oz books, but I've walked away with an appreciation for a woman who I had no inkling about prior.  Maud Baum gets her turn in the spotlight and I can't think of anyone more deserving.

Final Grade = B+


azteclady said...

I need to read this; I have an ARC, and hesitated to read it because reading slump from hell is making me HYPER critical of everything I read, but this seems something that would pass my current cantankerous bitch filter. Thank you!

Wendy said...

I came into it completely blind - having never read the books, knowing nothing about the author and not having seen the movie in a number of years (although yes, it was annual viewing growing up back when they showed it on network TV during the holiday season). Also, very refreshing to read a book where the protagonist is a 77-year-old woman - one who is outspoken and independent and maneuvering through the social mores of her time. Maud's pretty awesome.

Dorine said...

I'm so glad you reviewed this. It looked and sounded good, but I didn't trust those thoughts enough to request it for review. I just listened to the audible sample and it's now on my wish-list.

I'm not big on fantasy either, and never read the books, but the movie was a yearly TV event in my house as a child, so getting to know the background sounds fascinating.

Wendy said...

Dorine: I think you'll really like it! I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, and it was a perfect example of "found history" for me. I learned stuff :)

Dorine said...

I love it when I learn stuff so I'm in. Thank you!